What Is Universal Design for Learning?

My current (and final!) grad class is on Systematic Approaches to Instruction and we are currently discussing Universal Design for Learning. I will be posting some notes and excerpts from our readings. This excerpt comes from Chapter 4 of Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age which can be found here: http://www.cast.org/teachingeverystudent/ideas/tes/

Chapter 4: What Is Universal Design for Learning? 

Addressing the divergent needs of special populations increases usability for everyone.

Universal Design for Learning extends universal design in two key ways. First, it applies the idea of built-in flexibility to the educational curriculum. Second, it pushes universal design one step further by supporting not only improved access to information within classrooms, but also improved access to learning.

Non-educators often make the mistake of equating access to information with access to learning. In reality, these are two separate goals. In fact, increasing access to information can actually undermine learning, because it sometimes requires reducing or eliminating the challenge or resistance that is essential to learning.

As educators, our aim is not simply to make information accessible to students, but to make learning accessible. This requires resistance and challenge.

Knowing the instructional goal is essential for determining when to provide support and when to provide resistance and challenge.

Principles of the UDL Framework
Principle 1:
To support recognition learning, provide multiple, flexible methods of presentation

Principle 2:
To support strategic learning, provide multiple, flexible methods of expression and apprenticeship.

Principle 3:
To support affective learning, provide multiple, flexible options for engagement.

The three UDL principles share one common recommendation: to provide students with a wider variety of options.

The framework of UDL consists of instructional approaches that provide students with choices and alternatives in the materials, content, tools, contexts, and supports they use.

We know we should provide students with sensory alternatives to ensure that those who have difficulty with one sensory modality (such as speech or sight) will not be excluded from learning opportunities.

Similarly, bottom-up motor alternatives, such as special keyboards or voice recognition software, can ensure that students with physical disabilities will not be excluded from a particular learning task. This kind of alternative crosses modalities, offering students a completely different way to obtain or express ideas.

But realistically, even the most creative teacher can only present one option at a time. And even if we did manage to use a variety of approaches and media to present concepts, our students would still need to practice those concepts and apply them on their own.

The UDL framework can guide these three pedagogical steps, helping teachers to set clear goals, individualize instruction, and assess progress.

By simply removing express reference to the medium and stating the goal this way, we open the door for more students' participation and success.

Create ramps, not hurdles!
Rose, D.H. & Meyer, A. (2002). Teaching every student in the digital age: Universal design for learning. Association for Curriculum and Development http://www.cast.org/teachingeverystudent/ideas/tes/


  1. I see what they did. Let's make "universal" become "multiple options". I can duct tape all my remote controls together into one giant "universal remote", but then users (students and teachers) are still trying to find the right button in this glob of stuff.

    Wouldn't ONE button that does it all work better? But really, that's the holy grail of education: a one-stop solution that fixes all the problems.

    Guess I'm not buying the underlying principle that every person is exactly the same and a single methodology will produce the same results every time. Put that way, it makes us sound like lab rats

    1. I think you're misunderstanding. The idea of universal is not to have one giant remote but to have all of the options that multiple remotes can provide. One person might need more volume while another needs caption or while another needs subtitles in Spanish and etc. Universal implies that it's more accommodating for ALL.

      It seems as if you're contradicting yourself. You say that the holy grail of education is a one-stop solution that fixes all problems but then you turn around and say you don't buy into the fact that a single methodology will produce the same results every time. So then a one-stop solution isn't the holy grail?

      UDL agrees that every person is not exactly the same. Therefore we need to think of multiple modes for delivering instruction as well as multiple modes for students to learn and prove that they have learned.

      It's the opposite of saying we are lab rats. It's saying that every individual is unique and needs a unique mixture of delivery and supports. One methodology won't work every single time which predicates UDL's emphasis on "multiple options".